Billy Childish’s Freedom Through Limitation: The Creed of Authenticity Over Originality.
The following notes were written in collaboration with Billy sitting at his kitchen table last winter. They were supposed to be for a 7” 45s box set we were working on with Sanctuary Records but since we don’t work with Sanctuary Records any more - we thought they’d be better employed helping Ian @ Damaged Goods promote his Pop Rivets CD re-masters.
Damaged Goods have just re-issued “Greatest Hits” (DAMGOOD 217 CD) & “MT Sounds From Anarchy Ranch” (DAMGOOD 218 CD) both are available from:
Billy Childish aka Gus Claudius aka Kurt Schwitters aka Charles Hangman aka William Loveday aka Rollin Slim aka Jack Ketch has recorded over 100 LP’s, painted over 2,000 paintings, written 2 novels and published more than 30 collections of poetry. Childish has been sited as an influence by such diverse artists as: Kurt Kobain, Kylie Minouge, Beck, PJ Harvey, Tracey Emin & Jack White, but has so far managed not to be crushed by any crumbs falling from the high table.
Born in 1959 in Chatham, Kent, Billy left secondary education aged 16, an undiagnosed dyslexic. Refused an interview at the local art college, he entered the Naval Dockyard at Chatham as an apprentice stonemason. During the following 6 months (the artist’s only prolonged period of employment), he produced over 600 drawings in the ‘tea huts of hell’.
On the basis of this work he was accepted into St Martin’s School of Art to study painting. However, his acceptance was short lived, and before completing the course he was expelled for his outspokenness and unusual working methods (refusing to paint any pictures inside the college for fear of contamination). Childish then spent some 12 years ‘painting on the dole’, developing his own highly personal writing style and producing his art independently.
Billy’s first group was The Pop Rivets (aka TV 21) who played their first gig in 1977 at Detling Village Hall. Famous for their renditions of “Stingray” and “Hippy Hippy Shake”, The Pop Rivets recorded the first truly independent LP in 1978/9, pipping Swell Maps to the post (who’s LP was actually funded by Rough Trade). The Pop Rivets, on the other hand, borrowed £300 from a chap named Aka who had just received a year’s Social Security back pay. Aka was a fan who hated Childish and the group and dismissed them as a bunch of art school wafters. The mystified Pop Rivets took the money and set about recording the “Greatest Hits” LP.
During 1979/80 The Pop Rivets were playing self-promoted gigs in Switzerland and Germany, and recorded a 2nd LP: “Empty Sounds From Anarchy Ranch”. Two further EP’s appeared before The Pop Rivets recorded a lost (thankfully?) John Peel session and split up in 1980.
Fuelled by a hatred of New Romanticism, David Bowie, Queen, Genesis and anybody idiotic enough to be a fan of anything, Billy learnt to play guitar (taught by Micky, Bruce and Big Russ) and set about making elemental rock n roll music.
Childish has continued making his own noise ever since, somehow always managing to avoid becoming popular. Over many years he has had as many groups as incarnations. The group names in rough order of appearance are:
The Pop Rivets/TV21, The Deadbeats, The/e Milkshakes, Major Dog and The Gissyoms (Billy Childish and Sexton Ming), The Delmonas, The Natural Born Lovers, Thee Mighty Caesars, Jack Ketch and The Crowmen, The Blackhands, Thee Headcoats, Thee Headcoatees and The Buff Medways (Billy’s current group).
In all of these groups and recordings, Billy and his friends have never veered from the path of freedom through limitation. Childish’s idea of evolution is to make his 103rd LP sound like it was recorded before his 1st.
A great believer in artistic devolution, Billy’s championing of the amateur epitomizes the homemade ethic. Any Childish group has always been able to knock out an LP in a couple of days. The Milkshakes were once told that by releasing two LPs a year they were committing commercial suicide - The Milkshakes response to this was to release 4 LPs on one day.
Whether the current wave of interest in Childish’s work is sustained beyond the next industry sponsored scene wave is anybody’s guess, but 3 things are for certain: Billy will remain oblivious, continue making home grown music and will no doubt be cited as a major influence by the next big gang of guitars that walk into town whenever that may be.
Neophytes, long term admirers and the abusive are all welcome. Billy says that his work is for the ‘yet to be born’ and prophesises a spiritual renaissance expressed as the creed of authenticity over originality.
Jean Encoule/Billy Childish tMx 17 10/04